Jan Storm van Leeuwen

B-10: Introduction to the History of Bookbinding

6-10 March 2006


1)   How useful were the pre-course readings?

1: The suggested reading was helpful and a good beginning for reference materials. 2: The pre-course readings and illustrations were extremely useful. I appreciated the groundwork, as it provided a base for the week. 3: Some readings rather advanced and detailed scholarship for an introductory course. Most excellent, however, for illustrations. It would have been far more useful to have the course packet [of ] required reading [to be done during the week] ahead of time. 4: Very useful to review. 5: They were helpful, although some were difficult to get hold of. 6: Extremely pertinent and readily accessible to me at my public library. 7: Very useful! They helped not only to ground me in basic terminology needed for the course, but also to illuminate what bookbindings can tell us, and how scholars study them. 8: Extremely useful. I was lucky to be able to get access to all of them because several major research libraries are available to me. I can imagine that some people would find it much more difficult. 9: Very useful -- gave me a general overview of information that I knew little about and laid good groundwork for the information we covered in class. 10: Useful as an overview, but not essential because most vocabulary already familiar to me. More valuable to go back to now that I’ve learned enough to make the details stick.


2)   Were the course syllabus and other materials distributed in class useful (or will they be so in the future, after you return home)?

1: Absolutely! 2: Yes. I believe my notes from each session will be the most helpful -- more than I could have hoped for. 3: Yes. Perhaps JSvL could send us the updated versions of the bibliography! 4: Very useful; a number of additional resources were given which will be of great interest (such as rubbings website). 5: The course syllabus and handouts were very useful. Selfishly, I would have liked more visual handouts on binding structures. 6: The syllabus too was helpful and corresponds with the pace of the lecture. The bibliography, however, is not up to date though it should not be too difficult to obtain a current reading list from JSvL via email. 7: Yes, very useful! I can’t wait to go back and use the handouts to help me at my own library. 8: The course materials were very helpful, and I will surely use the bibliography in the future. 9: Yes -- syllabus is a wealth of information and terms learned in class. 10: Yes. The narrative “introduction” of vocabulary and history was useful evening reading; some images too hard to see in photocopy, though. [JSvL’s] “Short Guide to the Description of Bookbindings” will be very useful.  

3)   What aspects of the course content were of the greatest interest or relevance for your purposes? Was the intellectual level of the course appropriate?

1: Understanding the terminology and seeing actual examples of binding styles. 2: The physical attributes and defined styles of each time period for each country was of the greatest interest for me. The characteristics, sketches, and historical context formed the core of my interests and needs. 3: The exercise in which we described bindings for ourselves. The trip to Special Collections to view originals; instructor’s anecdotes. The very thorough discussion of terminology and problems in standardizing it. 4: I think it informed me on the issues where I have had concerns about my own approach to the study of bindings, and helped me to identify the areas where I need to do more study. I think for an introductory course it might have been good to discuss as a group a particular style in conjunction with a commonly shared/read article so that the approach to understanding a style would be firmly outlined for future application. The number of slides and styles were a visual treat but perhaps overwhelming and confusing as well, on occasion. I think it would be good also to emphasize, as the instructor did, but perhaps even more so, how much our understanding of binding history is affected by loss, forgery, imitation, and an insular approach to style, since it very seldom seems possible to make definitive/narrow statements. 5: The descriptions of the sewing structures were most helpful, especially the movie we watched. The intellectual level of the course was appropriate, and JSvL was very clear in his explanations. 6: The explanations of bookbinding structure, especially the Jefferson binding models displayed at the Paper Museum. It was an immense help to handle the model sequences. The analysis of bindings from geographic regions and historical periods. 7: I’d have to say all contents were of interest and relevance. I think that learning the terminology for identifying and describing bindings was perhaps the most relevant, though. The intellectual level of the course was high, but appropriate -- the pre-course readings helped prepare me quite well. 8: It is unlikely that I will ever have the opportunity to work with the kinds of real luxury bindings that we saw, but having the chance to see so many examples of different binding styles has already made me think more intelligently about the bindings I do handle every day. The intellectual level of the class was very appropriate. 9: Intellectual level was perfect. I can’t pick out one thing, it was all interesting and relevant, since I knew very little to start with! 10: In addition to the “Short Guide to the Description of Bookbindings” already mentioned, the bibliography (with commentary and holding up the book and flipping through so we could tie the entry to a “look”) was very useful. The websites will be very useful (especially since JSvL explained how and why each was gathering their data). Learning how to do rubbings properly was great.


4)   If your course had field trips, were they effective?

1: Yes -- it was extremely helpful. 2: Most definitely! The “hands-on” part of the class was very helpful ... slides do not compare to the actual object. 3: Perhaps more time in Special Collections looking at originals would have been more beneficial. Slide show should have been broken up in smaller and non-consecutive segments. 4: Yes. 5: The trip to Special Collections was invaluable, especially when we had to verbalize what we learned. 6: Yes. Three-quarters of a day spent showing many bindings presented during the slide show. 7: N/A. 8: We spent most of a day in the Small Special Collections Library. The time was extremely well spent. We saw many bindings we had seen in slides, but the experience of seeing them in person is completely different. 9: Yes: we got to look at many books from both RBS and Alderman; nothing beats looking at the “real thing.” 10: Yes. Trips to Lower Tibet and Special Collections. Could have done with fewer examples in LT (some made the same point) in order to have more time. Use of Special Collections very efficient and useful, including taking the time to have us talk through what we were observing in order to connect it with notes taken during slide lectures.


5)   What did you like best about the course?

1: JSvL’s passion for his subject matter and the thoroughness and organization of class. The availability of a wide variety of bindings -- both “rubbish” and fine -- to demonstrate the variety of bindings gives a clarity to the subtle differences that one can never get in a slide or photo. The sample structures of early bindings were also enormously effective teaching tools. 2: I enjoyed the time spent in Special Collections. Discussing the actual books in person was most beneficial. The individual evaluations of our assigned books was also fabulous. 3: Instructor’s enthusiasm, ability to communicate an enormous amount of knowledge in a short time. The chance to view original bindings in Special Collections. 4: I think it was a very good course overall. It has given me a lot to think about, and what more could I ask? It has given me the answers to some questions, but perhaps raised more. 5: I was very happy JSvL discussed so many conservation issues. I hope that he writes about it in the future. 6: Discussions about modern c20 fine bookbindings. JSvL’s enthusiasm and experience with many of these still living binders made a great impression. For example, he was able to elucidate on several of the catalogs listed in the bibliography because he had attended those exhibitions. 7: JSvL! He is absolutely amazing; a veritable walking encyclopedia of bookbinding. On top of that he is wonderfully nice and funny. His enthusiasm for bookbindings makes me want to go back and look at every binding in my library. 8: JSvL’s enthusiasm and the delight he takes in the study of bookbindings and his willingness to admit that there are things he does not know. It was also useful to see so many examples. The experience of seeing things when you are talking about them makes them much clearer. 9: I liked JSvL’s enthusiasm for his subject and his friendly and engaging classroom manner. 10: The extra background information and “real world” experiences of caring for, buying, and studying bindings that JSvL brought to the class and to the examples. The name plates for each participant a la UN are a great idea.


6)   How could the course have been improved?

1: It was fine. 2: More time could be spent with actual books. After going through a few slides for each time period and country, it would have been helpful to evaluate the books in Special Collections. The teacher’s prejudices/subjectivity were too much at times. He took away from and sometimes blurred the true focus of the class. Some regions of the world did not receive the attention due them, which was disappointing. 3: Course material and handouts not fully up to date, as indicated by instructor himself: it wouldn’t have taken long to remedy this and should happen next term! Students should have more chances to practice identifying and describing bindings, perhaps right after the instructor takes them to Special Collections to view originals. Perhaps JSvL could have someone listen in on his talks and catch translation problems that (while entertaining) slowed and confused the class at times. 4: Perhaps some small group discussion opportunity. The inclusion of Italian binding history. 5: It would have been great to have more handouts with more visual examples. 7: It should be longer...a week is not enough. I’d also like to see more “real” bindings as opposed to just slides. It would also be nice to spend a bit less time talking about the literature about bindings and a bit more time describing bindings on the last day. Most of the literature we talked about was included in the syllabus, so I would have preferred using that time to hear my classmates talk about bindings.

8: The course was very well taught -- I can’t think of any improvements. 9. I would have liked to actually touch more old books, but realize this is not really possible. Also, our classroom was very cramped and airless. 10: Use Power Point instead of slides so room is brighter and can have basic information about book (e.g. text, binder, date, repository) included in the “slide” (I understand JSvL is preparing to do this soon). Connect books being talked about in “literature of bookbinding” period to their location in the bibliography, so we can jot notes directly next to the entry instead of having to note author, title, &c.


7)   We are always concerned about the physical well-being both of the RBS teaching collections and of materials owned by UVa’s Special Collections. If relevant, what suggestions do you have for the improved classroom handling of such materials used in your course this week?

1, 3: None. 4: None. As a conservator I am very impressed with the care and handling concern demonstrated by the instructor and his assistant [Vincent Golden]; a good example for all of us. 5: The decorative papers would have been easier to look at if they were in Mylar sleeves or folders that could be gently opened (like Museum Night). 7: N/A. 8: Everyone was very careful with materials. If we handled items ourselves, we mostly used baskets. We did not handle Lower Tibet materials or items from Special Collections. 9: All materials were handled with care. 10: Remember to start passing examples from the end farthest from the course assistant so that he or she can whisk them off the main tables efficiently.


8)   If you attended the Sunday and/or Monday night lectures, were they worth attending?

1: Yes. 2: I absolutely enjoyed John Buchtel’s lecture on Jane Eyre. It was very worthwhile. Terry Belanger’s lecture provided background that was important for everyone attending. 3: Sunday lecture was informative re: the history of RBS, but not exciting. Monday lecture seemed geared towards non-librarians/curators/booksellers and therefore did not introduce ideas that were very challenging. 4: Yes. 5: The Sunday night lecture was helpful in understanding how distinct this program is. 7: N/A. 8: Both lectures were worth attending. 9: Yes! The Jane Eyre lecture was great. 10: Sunday night lecture is something I always look forward to -- a way of keeping up with RBS developments. Was unable to attend Monday.

9) If you attended a Museum Night, was the time profitably spent?

1: Really enjoyed the Museum Nights -- but there was not enough time to do both on Wednesday. 2: The two Museum Nights were incredible! Thanks to all involved. There was so much information presented that it was amazing! Nothing beats the “hands-on” approach to learning. 3: Two Museums excellent. Very important for understanding the book as a whole while taking a course on a specific subject. Instructors were very informative and helpful. I am surprised that they were not well attended. 4: Museum Nights -- both excellent. Did not attend Video Night. 5: Both Museum Nights were wonderful and the staff was incredibly helpful. 6: Yes. 7: Both Museum Nights were wonderful. 8: As always, the Museums were extremely useful, both because of the helpfulness of the staff and because there is always something relevant to look at. It is great fun to see new things on display. Staff illness made video night slightly confusing (the DVD we were supposed to see could not be found -- we just chose an alternate). 9: Yes. It was great to touch all the papers and learn about parchment &c. 10: Museum Night was very useful, as usual, with knowledgeable staff to explain things.


10) Did you get your money’s worth? Any final thoughts?

1: As Arnold would say, “I’ll be back!” Given that my costs are non-reimbursed, attending RBS is a commitment, and the experience was well worth it. My ability to better understand and describe bindings using the proper terminology has greatly improved in one week’s time. Another advantage RBS offers is their collection of “teaching tools,” examples of fine and damaged bindings, offering students real books rather than photos to learn from. Additionally, JSvL’s critique of reference books and the ability to look them over is extremely helpful if one plans to build one’s own reference library. Kudos to JSvL and to RBS. 2: Yes, I definitely did get my money’s worth. In attendance this week were two large groups (six -- eight people each) from well-known institutions. As a result, it was difficult to truly mingle and interact, because members of each group stayed to themselves. This was disappointing to many of us. Please keep this in mind for future sessions, as a more diverse population will benefit everyone involved. 3: The RBS program as a whole is very well organized, save for the fact that there was no back-up plan for showing the DVDs when staff members were ill. Good food at coffee breaks! 4: Yes. It’s a good course. JSvL has a formidable command of binding history detail and is a wonderful speaker and storyteller as well. 5: I believe my money was very well spent. My future advice would be to apply as early as possible to find the recommended readings. 6: Yes. I find that the intensity of the course through scheduling, information presented, relevant examples on display and the experience of my RBS classmates provided an engaging intellectual atmosphere, one in which the subject matter could be fully absorbed and not easily forgotten. Thoroughly inspiring in establishing a foundation for the study of physical bibliography. JSvL mentioned that he could easily have created sub-categories of the subject worthy of their own courses, though it would be difficult to engage given RBS’s limited collection for specific examples. Indeed the amount of information on bookbinding is well documented. I was pleased to listen to his Friday overview of relevant literature and to see the books in [the] RBS collection, especially his own. Reassuring to know that I can follow up on the learning here through such useful examples. 7: I definitely got more than my money’s worth. 8: RBS courses are a bargain -- if you are willing to put the preparation time in, your efforts are more than repaid. I would recommend this class to anyone who handles old materials regularly. I don’t do our cataloging, so I won’t be writing descriptions, but I’ll be able to answer more reference questions and collaborate with our conservators more easily now. 9: Very worthwhile. I would come again. I really liked the casual atmosphere (and snacks!), combined with serious learning. 10: Yes! This was a wonderful course, and I wouldn’t mind taking it again for a second chance to see the examples and get them in my head after having had a more informed look at my own collection.

Number of respondents: 10


Leave                       Tuition                    Housing                   Travel

Institution                 Institution                 Institution                 Institution

gave me leave            paid tuition               paid housing              paid travel

60%                            30%                            30%                            40%

I took vaca-                I paid tui-                  I paid for my              I paid my own

tion time                    tion myself                 own housing              travel

10%                            40%                            60%                            60%

N/A: self-                   N/A: Self-                   N/A: stayed                N/A: live

employed, re-             employed,                  with friends               nearby

tired, or had              retired, or                  or lived at

summers off              scholarship                home

30%                            30%                            10%                            0%

There were four rare book librarians (40%); three conservator/binder/preservation librarians (30%); one general librarian with some rare book duties (10%); one general librarian with no rare book duties (10%); and one museum employee (10%).